Members of the Houston City Council passed an agenda item at a Dec. 7 regular meeting that will change the city's code of ordinances to require permits for any events with over 500 people held outdoors on private property.
The item was brought to City Council at its Nov. 30 meeting, but it was tagged by at-large Council Member Mike Knox, meaning no vote could be taken on it until the next meeting. The ordinance would also add a permit application fee of $61.03—matching the application fee for special events in the city's fee schedule—as well as an expedited processing fee of $200.
“My concern is that I'm always hesitant to engage in laws that apply specifically to one group or another,” Knox said at the Nov. 30 meeting. “I believe in fair implementation of the law across our other events.”
District C Council Member Abbie Kamin argued in favor of the ordinance.
“This is one bite at that apple,” she said of Knox’s concerns. “But this is a very important item that not only addresses a public safety concern in need, but also addresses strain on current law enforcement resources that the city is having to pony up for in response to poorly planned events.”
The proposal was brought to the council with support of Susan Christian, director of the Mayor's Office of Special Events; Houston Police Chief Troy Finner; and Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña. It would also require the event to require security, staffing, traffic plans and emergency contact information.
The language submitted to council included exceptions to the permit requirement for property owned by religious institutions, institutions of higher education and properties that have an A-1 Certificate of Occupancy, which typically includes symphonies, theaters and concert halls.
As it was discussed again on Dec. 7, Knox suggested an amendment to strike the word "music" from the ordinance altogether.
"It does broaden this ordinance way beyond the intended purpose. This ordinance was specifically crafted to deal with music and deal with music events on private property where there are more than 500 people," Mayor Sylvester Turner said in explaining his opposition to Knox's amendment. "It was written to be narrowly tailored because you are dealing with private property."
Kamin spoke again at the Dec. 7 meeting in favor of the ordinance and reminded colleagues it has been in the works for months.
"We have had over two months to have discussion, not just throw something up at the table," Kamin said.
Kamin said Knox's amendment has not been vetted like the rest of the ordinance has been by HPD, HFD and the mayor's office.
The ordinance was discussed at the same time as an interlocal agreement that looks at larger events held at NRG Stadium, which was recently approved by Harris County Commissioners Court and has been authorized by the mayor to go into effect.
"What we are trying to do is get in front of all of these events and at least look at it from a permitting standpoint," Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin said.
After discussions, Knox withdrew his motion to strike "music" from the ordinance's language.
The ordinance was approved by the Council, and changes will go into effect 90 days from Dec. 7.